All This Fuss Just to Leave Roh¡¯s Name in North Korea

Full details are coming to light over a row over a stone monument which former National Intelligence Service chief Kim Man-bok famously carried to Pyongyang on Dec. 18, the eve of presidential elections in South Korea. During last year¡¯s inter-Korean summit, the leaders of the two countries planted a tree to commemorate the meeting and agreed to place a 250 kg memorial stone there. But it didn¡¯t happen. Some news media reported that the North rejected the stone, saying it was too large, while Cheong Wa Dae said it was the failure of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to turn up at the tree planting -- the monument bore the names of both President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim.

What is pathetic is that the presidential office was so fixated on the stone that the head of South Korea¡¯s intelligence service had to put all of his duties on hold to travel all the way to North Korea with another rock after Seoul spent two months negotiating with Pyongyang over this issue. The monument was downsized to 70 kg and now just bears a message hoping for unification from Roh alone.

The stone has otherwise had no noticeable impact on inter-Korean relations. We weren¡¯t even allowed to commemorate the summit on it. As things were going, Roh Moo-hyun should have realized how pathetic things had become and should have given up trying to leave traces of his accomplishments. But the former NIS chief traveled to the North Korean capital with the stone a day before the presidential elections: presumably he went because Roh told him to. There can be no government in the world that mobilizes its intelligence chief to handle the placement of a memorial stone next to a commemorative tree.

It is laughable that the NIS chief traveled all the way to North Korea a day before the presidential elections to meet with his Northern counterpart to talk about a rock. It is an embarrassment for the country. But we cannot simply laugh and forget about this matter. If it is true that the South Korean leader and his intelligence chief were so fixated on a cornerstone bearing his name, then it is a national tragedy, the pitiful result of an abnormal relationship between Seoul and Pyongyang between 2003 and 2008.

Roh refused to accept Kim Man-bok¡¯s resignation and sat on it for 27 days. Now we know why.
englishnews@chosun.com / 2¿ù 15, 2008 09:58 KST